Mongo Beti Ben Okri - Essay

Ben Okri

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Remember Ruben] treats of the relationship between individuals and a complex, clouded situation of emerging national politics. When a solitary, young boy arrives at the village of Ekoumdoum, a new dimension enters village life. The youth, renamed Mor-Zamba, lost, coldly reticent and taunted by the villagers, attracts to himself another youth, Abena, a future revolutionary. Abena's sole ambition, symbolically, is to 'get a gun'. Morzamba's ambition to have the daughter of a prominent villager for wife stirs up forces of hostility which lead to his being taken off to a labour camp. Abena goes to look for him, and from then on their actions become larger than their characters….

Behind everything lurks Ruben, trade union leader, relentless critic of national politics, and later guerrilla leader, whose personality links together the forces of protest. He is a mythical figure, never confronted in the narrative. After his death the phrase 'Remember Ruben' becomes a rallying call and reminder of the need for continuous vigilance.

Beti's depiction of a colony's traumas, confusions and corruptions is vivid and masterly. His treatment of the forces of history and the determination of ordinary individuals recalls Ngugi at his best. But Remember Ruben frequently gets bogged down, characters and story line lost, in its documentary portrayal of the patterns and details of colonial politics. The language is elevated, the author using the inclusive 'our' as though the novel were written as a general testament of the village of Ekoumdoum. The style is sometimes grand, sometimes tiresome, but always its energy rolls…. (p. 20)

In the end Abena returns, a hero with the new name of Ouragenviet, in time to save Kola-kola, the huge black suburb, from destruction. After 18 years there is a reunion with Mor-zamba, and the contrived revelation of Mor-zamba's true origins…. [The] end disappoints, but this does not altogether detract from the novel's importance. (p. 21)

Ben Okri, "Arms & the Man," in New Statesman (© 1981 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 101, No. 2602, January 30, 1981, pp. 20-1.∗